The story of Dallas Clark and his improbable rise to NFL stardom reads more like fiction than fact because of the extraordinary circumstances.
An 18-year-old kid from tiny Livermore loses his mother to a heart attack three days before graduating from high school, goes on to join the Iowa football team as an unheralded walk-on linebacker and then switches to tight end where he becomes a star in college and in the NFL before retiring on Monday.
The odds of somebody doing what Clark did are slim, but they aren’t insurmountable unless you refuse to try to beat them.
Clark is a shining example of what a person with guts and determination can accomplish when given an opportunity and when surrounded by the right people.
Of course, his story never would’ve happened without Clark being physically gifted, but that gift often gets wasted.
Clark, with help from a long list of coaches, family and friends, used his gift to change his life. He honored the memory of his mother, Jan, who died in 1998, by reaching the pinnacle of his profession.
It says a lot about Clark’s character that he managed to stay the course in college despite not having his mother to help steer him through.
His mother was only 49 when she died. She collapsed while cleaning the garage in preparation for her son’s upcoming graduation party. Dallas, with help from his aunt, tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate his mother. She died in Dallas’ arms, but her spirit lives on.
I still vividly remember interviewing Clark after Iowa’s 31-28 come-from-behind victory over Purdue on Oct. 5, 2002 because most of the interview was about his mother being his guardian angel. Clark had just had one of the greatest performances by an Iowa tight end, capped by his game-winning 7-yard touchdown catch with barely one minute to play. He also had a spectacular 95-yard touchdown catch against the Boilermakers in which he ran about 94 yards down the Iowa sideline to score.
Clark spoke as if his mother was guiding him down the sideline on his 95-yard touchdown catch, the whole time yelling “Way to go, Dal!”
“She was my number one fan,” Clark said after the Purdue game. “She’d be at every game and everything I was at. It’s really hard to play in these big games and not have her there watching me play.
“But I know she’s looking down and she’s smiling from ear-to-ear and is just happy as can be. And that’s all I’m trying to do, is work hard and make her proud.”
Clark would go on to win the Jack Mackey Award, which goes to the top tight end in college football, as a junior in 2002. He skipped his senior season at Iowa to enter the 2003 NFL draft, where he was selected in the first round by the Indianapolis Colts.
Clark held up his end of the deal by becoming a star on the field.
In nine seasons with the Colts, he broke the franchise’s career tight end records for receptions (427) and touchdown catches (46) and finished second in yards receiving (4,887) and 100-yard games (seven). He also set Colts single-season records with 100 receptions and 1,106 yards in 2009 and 11 touchdown catches in 2007.
Clark crossed paths with Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz at the right time and each is much better for it today. Clark is part of a select group of players who defied the odds under Ferentz, players who achieved greatness when few saw it coming.
It started with a belief and a vision that led to a position change, and eventually to Clark becoming a pass-catching force as a tight end.
Clark’s physical gifts ranged from having sure hands to an extra gear. He had a knack for seizing the moment, perhaps best illustrated by his breathtaking performance against Purdue in 2002.
Clark also had Peyton Manning at the peak of his legendary career throwing him pinpoint passes for the Colts. It was a match made in tight end heaven, so perhaps Clark’s mother had pulled a few strings.
Clark’s father, Doug, also died in August 2012 at the age of 65, but was fortunate to have witnessed his son’s incredible ride.
Clark now moves to the next chapter in his life after playing 11 seasons in the NFL. We can assume that he will continue to be a part of the Hawkeye landscape because it means so much to him, and vice versa.
Clark’s unlikely ascent is at the core of what Iowa football stands for under Ferentz. A team doesn’t win recruiting rankings with players like Dallas Clark. It wins games.
Iowa won 14 of 17 games with Clark playing tight end during a stretch from late in 2001 season until the end of the 2002 season. The Colts also won consistently with Clark on the roster, including winning the Super Bowl following the 2006 season.
Clark was determined to show that his mother raised a winner and he has succeeded in spectacular fashion.
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football